Softball hopes to make ‘Big Dance’

The Butler softball team hopes to do something this season they have never done before—earn a trip to the NCAA tournament by winning the Horizon League tournament.

Juniors Lauren McNulty and Mallory Winters hope to prove to the rest of the league that Butler deserve their preseason ranking of third.

“Our league is going to be tough this year, but we think we have the team to make a run in the tournament at the end of the year,” Winters said.

In the two years they’ve been on the team, Winters and McNulty have never beaten Cleveland State,  ranked first in the preseason poll.

“We would love to beat Cleveland State. That would help us get to our goal of winning the conference tournament and making it to the NCAA tourney,” McNulty said.

First-year head coach Scott Hall said he shares many of the same goals as his players.

“Butler softball has never gotten a bid to the NCAA tournament, and I think we have a group that’s capable of doing that this year,” Hall said. “If we can be more fundamentally sound than Cleveland State and the University of Illinois-Chicago, we can be successful.”

The Bulldogs start their season Feb. 18 against Southern Illinois. That game, and their game the next day against Louisiana Tech, will be played on Mississippi State’s field.

Their first home game is March 24 against Indiana State.

“Our out of conference schedule is going to provide us a lot of opportunities to test ourselves against a lot of top teams,” McNulty said.

“We’re going to concentrate the most on conference play, but these out-of-conference games are still important.”

Junior first baseman Erin Falkenberry played for Hall when he was the head coach at Pendleton Heights (Indiana) High School prior to taking the Butler job.

She said the most unique thing about his coaching style is his ability to not only teach every position, but also demonstrate it to the players.

“During the three years I played for him, the biggest thing he taught me was how to tweak my swing to help me hit for power,” Falkenberry said. “He’s so involved at every practice that it’s hard not to learn something from him.”

Hall said that if his team is to be successful this season, their pitching staff and pitching coach Casey Clutch will have to play an important part.

“Our pitching staff has worked really hard this offseason,” Hall said. “Clutch has been working with them on specific workouts, and they’re all looking great.”

Hall also hopes his team can avoid some of the mistakes they made last year and improve in every game they play.

Winters, one of the team’s catchers, said she understands the importance of her position and holds herself to high standards.

“I know I’m going to have to play well this season,” she said. “I’m going to have to call good games and be able to come through at the plate when my team needs me.”

McNulty, who has been a strong outfield presence but may also see time at third base, said she needs to work on getting big hits when her team needs her to. She also said that communicating on the field is going to be a big part of wins this season.

“If we can communicate out there effectively, we’ll be tougher to beat,” McNulty said.

Should his team make the NCAA tournament, Hall believes their regular season schedule will prepare them for the talented teams they are sure to see in the tournament.

“We have a tough regular season ahead of us, but I think we’ll come out of it stronger as a team,” he said.